There’s a general feeling these days that bike should get rid of barriers at the entrance and the guards and all that kind of stuff, which certainly should be. The more people on the bike the better, and as cyclists we need to be aware of not scaring people away with our unfortunate tendency towards extreme weeniedom.
At the same time, cycling isn’t always easy, and the fact that it’s tough at times can be one of the best things about it. I know this because I raced bikes in amateur leagues for several years. While I’m never suggesting that competition is somehow a prerequisite for participating in bikes, or that riding is a constant pain, I would humbly say that if you’re even slightly curious about racing, it’s something something worth trying, at least for a while. Races can teach you a lot about bikes, about yourself and about life. Here are some of the areas in which I gained valuable knowledge and skills after years of suspension:
To exercise for exercise’s sake is boring. If you want to sweat on fitness equipment, you might as well spare your bike the corrosive body fluids and hit the gym. However, maintaining a certain level of fitness will make all your cycling (and non-cycling) activities more enjoyable, even the most laid-back rides. If you’re in good shape, you can ride further, climb higher, and generally have more power at your disposal to enjoy the ride.
Even if you don’t have high competitive aspirations, running regularly will maintain a level of fitness that will make all types of cycling more fun all year round. And while it may seem counterintuitive, running is especially helpful if you’re the type who doesn’t like to “work out,” working out, or following a prescribed fitness program. Just run errands, join group rides, commute, fatten up your bike just for fun, and so on, and fitness will take care of itself. I mean you might not win, but…
Winning is not everything. Besides, it’s not even anything. Listen, if you are a child, your life is full of promise and anything is possible. You should dream, and you should dream big. One day, you could win a national championship or even an Olympic gold medal, and if that’s your goal, you should pursue it relentlessly. But if you’re reading this, I’m assuming you’re already an adult, in which case, let’s be real. You’re not going to the Tour de France (well, not as a competitor, anyway), and no one is impressed if you win a softball-level amateur bike race, except maybe your fellow racers. Even your family starts to tune out when you talk about how you did the break, or won the sprint, or ended up on the winning streak and won a big energy drink concoction.
Hey, if you’re determined to win, then go for it, but if you just like racing for the sake of racing, there’s nothing wrong with that either – just pass or fail and have fun! You don’t have to take it seriously, and in fact, the less seriously you take it, the more fun it can be. Whether it’s our bikes or our careers or whatever, statistically speaking, sooner or later all but one of us will eventually have to come to terms with the fact that we won’t be never the best in this field. In any endeavor, success lies in finding joy and satisfaction in it.
“Closing that gap!” “Hold your line! “Get on that wheel!”
One thing you learn when you start running is that it’s often the loudest runners who contribute the least to the run. Instead of letting their legs do the talking, they try to direct you or get you to do their job for them, and their incessant comments usually come from a place of weakness and insecurity. Meanwhile, the best runners are usually the quietest and mostly just winning.
Of course, this is also true in the world beyond bike racing, and it explains a lot, especially the whole internet.
Speaking of bullshit on the internet, there’s no shortage of people who will tell you why you need performance cycling gear, and why that expensive road bike is better than that expensive road bike, or why you need this upgrade or that upgrade, or why a new bike technology is “game changer”.
Here’s the thing though: if this is the performance bikes they’re talking about, none of this makes sense if the person “reviewing” it isn’t riding it. You can’t know a race bike until you’ve actually raced it. It’s like a stress test. You can happily pedal a road bike for years, only to race it and find that shifting is hard when you’re in anaerobic distress, or the bars and seatposts slip, or it squeaks under load, or that your position needs to be adjusted.
That doesn’t mean you have to race. This means that, if you’re not racing, you probably don’t need an expensive racing bike – in fact, you might not even need an expensive racing bike if you go racing. (You’ll find out when someone on a 25-year-old aluminum bike with Shimano 105 8-speed rips your legs off.) It also means people can make all kinds of dodgy marketing claims when they know they will not be tested.
Racing will quickly teach you how your bike works, especially under intense pressure. The same goes for your body. You learn when to eat and when to drink, and how to interpret the signals your body sends to your brain. You have become able to recognize when you can rest, recover and go again, as well as when you have pushed yourself beyond the point of no return and completely blown yourself up. All of this comes in handy long after you’ve hung up your wheels, and the candid relationship you develop with your body will serve you well on every ride.
There is no shortage of cycling and media companies that have attempted to market the glory of suffering. In truth, there is no glory in suffering, there is only glory in cycling – and it’s equally glorious whether you prefer to turn around or just twist the pedals just enough to allow yourself to move forward.
However, if you like to push yourself, it can be uplifting and even “fun” (for lack of a better word) to explore the complex relationship between your mind and body. Riding close to your limit for extended periods can be surprisingly meditative; it keeps you in the moment and rules out distraction, anxiety and “monkey mind”. You might even surprise yourself and find that this level of focus can help you push past your own physical limits. There are times when it’s wise to listen to your body, but there are also times when you should ignore it. In the end, the body always wants the easy way out. Plus, he has no spirituality or moral fiber, which should be evident in all these sex scandals.
This is perhaps more than anything else the most important lesson running can teach you, and it extends far beyond cycling. On the bike and in life, the temptation to sit down and give up can be strong. The easy way out isn’t always the best. Sometimes it’s the right thing to do, but sometimes if you hang in there you’ll find it was worth it in the end, even if you didn’t “win”.